A few times a week, I get tweets and/or emails asking me how I delete all my tweets every day. More than a few times a week, I get tweets asking me why I delete all my tweets every day. Sometimes it becomes a source of intense theorizing: Is it because I tweet nasty things? (No!) Is it because I’m trying to hide things? (No!) Is it because I don’t have the courage of my tweet-convictions? (Sort of!)
First things first, here’s how I do it: An app called tweet deleter, which you, too, can use. It costs money. For me, it’s worth it. You can set it to delete all your tweets every few days, every day, or after so many tweets. You can delete all your tweets at once only one time, or have a rolling deletion operation.
So there’s the how. And here’s the why.
What Twitter is For
For my purposes as a writer and editor, I use twitter for a few things: One, sharing stories I’ve either worked on or have written myself, in hopes of attracting readers. Two, monitoring ‘the conversation,’ as it were, to see what subjects appear to be gaining traction so I can commission on them. Three, following the work of interesting writers, and getting to know them so I can invite them to write for me.
How Twitter Actually Works
All that stuff is great in theory, and for the latter two, twitter is especially useful. For the former, well — anyone who’s spent time watching traffic metrics can tell you that, rare cases notwithstanding, twitter doesn’t really drive traffic.
So in practice, I end up chit-chatting about current events, tweeting (and re-tweeting) cute and interesting pictures, and joking around with people I already know or would like to get to know about whatever is going on that day. Sometimes spirited arguments take place, but most of the time I try to just engage in the lighter side of things.
But there’s the catch. The way twitter encourages you to engage—short-form, rapid response—tends to produce highly contextualized jokes, comments, and observations. If you’ve followed twitter during a major media event (the Oscars, election night, The Dress) you know that memes emerge and particular conversational climates develop, and that the jokes or observations made in the moment don’t make sense the next day. They’re not necessarily rude or offensive, just…nonsense.
The same goes for arguments on twitter—even the most judicious, charitable and level-headed ones. They play out in a particular context with a particular set of people who have whatever relationships, and then the moment passes and what’s left is a record of an argument that looks increasingly abstract—like a Socratic dialogue, an indication of your general views or approach to a topic—when really they’re a very specific dialogue, tied to a particular moment and set of interlocutors.
And all of that is fine. Someone finding nonsensical jokes or highly particular discussions or arguments a few years later isn’t a problem, especially if you, like me, tend to be pretty mild on twitter.
But old tweets can be a huge time-void. Before I deleted my tweets, I found myself spending a lot of time responding to exchanges linked to old tweets: Feeling either stuck in discussions that were days or weeks old, or obligated to explain the context of a joke tweet from a couple of weeks ago. Especially in cases where I had casually added comments in big threads, I found myself tagged into old arguments for months at times, when all I had really wanted to do was pop in for one observation or so to the original tweeter. I love thinking through different subjects and tensions with people on twitter, but I don’t enjoy being looped in on the same argument for weeks or months—it’s just not a good use of my time, and it doesn’t make me happy.
Old tweets can also, of course, be taken out of context, maliciously or otherwise, and misconstrued down the line. (Just take a look at what happened to Julia Ioffe, who happened to have tweeted remarks from an interview with a Russian teenager in 2013, before threaded tweets were a thing.) Having a snappy deletion regimen won’t stop people from doing this if they’re committed to it, but it will at least save you from the sort of thing that went down in Julia’s case.
I like twitter a lot. I love meeting people, following interesting writers and thinkers, sharing fun pieces and pictures, and keeping up with lots of different streams of thought. After all, that’s my job! But I have an idea of how much time I’d like to give it, and how much of a headache I’m willing to endure over it. For me — and I’m really, really not saying this is the best or only way to do things!—twitter is most fun and useful as an ephemeral phenomenon. So, that’s why I delete all my tweets all the time. I hope this has been useful and/or informative.